The power of the European Parliament
The only directly elected European Union (EU) institution; the European Parliament’s (EP) power and influence in pursuit of citizens’ interests have evolved significantly, transforming it into a full-fledged legislative body and forum of discussion and engagement at the heart of representative democracy, whose influence is felt in virtually all areas of EU activity.
What are then the European Parliament’s main powers?
What difference does the Parliament’s work make to how Europeans live their lives? This series highlights some practical examples of EP impact during the 2014-2019 legislative term.
Development cooperation has been a cornerstone of the EU’s relations with the outside world, contributing to the objectives of EU external action, alongside foreign, security and trade policies. The European Parliament is at the forefront of steering these efforts, especially through its role as the budgetary authority. The EU also recognises that a country’s security is a prerequisite for development.
Consequently, capacity building – including institution building, security sector reform and human capability development – has become a key element in the support the EU offers to non-EU countries. The European Parliament has insisted, however, that capacity building, especially for the military of non-EU countries, should not come at the expense of development assistance in the traditional sense.
The Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP) was established in 2014 to make funding available for crisis response, conflict prevention, peace-building and crisis preparedness, and to address global and trans-regional threats. Funding for the IcSP comes from the EU budget. In accordance with the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020 (MFF), €2.3 billion was allocated to the IcSP, under Heading IV of the MFF (Global Europe). Under the same Heading IV, €19.6 billion was allocated to the Instrument for Development Cooperation (DCI).
In July 2016, the European Commission presented a proposal for a regulation amending the IcSP, to be endowed with an additional budget of €100 million. The proposal aimed to adapt the IcSP, mainly to strengthen the EU’s role as a security provider, by introducing new funding opportunities for military capacity-building in third countries, in the form of training, infrastructure and equipment. Funding for these new measures was to come from redeployment of funds under Heading IV of the MFF 2014-2020.
The file was assigned to the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET), with an opinion from the Committee on Development (DEVE). The latter insisted in particular that the proposed assistance to build the capacity of military actors in partner countries should not come from funds allocated to development assistance. An amendment to this effect, together with one on monitoring of the use of the instrument and reporting to the European Parliament, was subsequently endorsed by Parliament and successfully defended in trilogue negotiations. As a result, the Council and the Commission agreed not to use appropriations allocated to the DCI to finance the capacity building in support of development and security for development foreseen under Regulation 2017/2306. An interinstitutional declaration to that effect also appears in the annex to Regulation 2017/2306. Another Parliament amendment, concerning monitoring of the use of the instrument and reporting to the European Parliament, was also successfully included in the final act.
The adoption of an instrument providing funding opportunities for military capacity-building in third countries marked an important step for the EU in general, and for the European Parliament in particular, especially given its calls for more efficient and effective EU external action in the context of addressing conflict, and for enhanced capacities in the security sector as a vital contribution to the goal of sustainable development. EU law prohibits the EU budget from being used to provide direct (lethal) military assistance. But the provision of assistance in the form of military capacity-building already marks a first step in the EU’s evolving security policy.
Together with the Council, the Parliament participates in the shaping of European laws in what may be seen as a bicameral legislature at EU level. The nature of the Parliament’s involvement depends on the area in question and may mean Parliament being consulted (consultation procedure), giving its consent (consent procedure), or legislating on an equal footing with the Council (the ordinary legislative procedure, or co-decision).
The latter procedure consists of the joint adoption of an act by the European Parliament and the Council on the basis of a proposal by the Commission. Here, both legislators need to agree on an identical text before it becomes law, which may take up to three readings in each of the two institutions. On average, it takes about 22 months for legislators to agree on a legislative file, starting from the Commission proposal until the signature of the final act.
The number of areas in which the Parliament co-legislates has expanded greatly over time and now includes the EU internal market, environment, consumer protection, food safety, regional development, agriculture, transport, energy and many others. Indeed, most legislative acts are now adopted following the ordinary legislative procedure.
Besides the power of consent with regard to legislative acts, the Parliament’s consent is required in many other instances not related to legislative acts in the strict sense. For example, it is needed before any new country joins the EU (Article 49, Treaty on European Union, TEU), but also before any withdrawal treaty can be concluded when a country decides to leave it (Article 50 TEU). The Parliament’s consent is also required before concluding agreements with third countries, for example association agreements, as well as before the Council determines that an EU Member State is breaching – or is about to breach – EU values (Article 7 TEU).
Read the complete study on ‘The power of the European Parliament: Examples of EP impact during the 2014-19 legislative term‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.